A conversation with MPA Hina Pervaiz Butt on ways to improve the performance of women parliamentarians in Pakistan
The News on Sunday (TNS): In your experience, as a member of the provincial assembly, what are the major challenges faced by women during a PA session?
Hina Pervaiz Butt (HPB): I believe a core challenge that most women in the assembly face is the fact that a majority of us come through reserved seats. Though this in itself should not be an issue, it has resulted in women in the assembly getting less importance. Due to this, women are not taken seriously since most people don’t think they have enough experience or legitimate backing to be in their seat in the first place. Another major challenge faced by women is the fact that many of us don’t know much about legislation, drafting, interpreting, or even call assistance. There are no constituencies that women on reserved seats can discuss during sessions. There is also not enough legislative discourse brought up by women due to a lack of training.
TNS: A majority of the women in parliament are catered through reserved seats and this affects their credibility, confidence, and perception in the assembly. What do you think is a viable solution to this problem?
HPB: I think there are two types of women parliamentarians in the assembly currently. First, those who are grassroots party worker. These women are incredibly experienced but often lack sufficient knowledge of certain matters such as legislation, drafting and resolutions. The second category, is well educated women who do have sufficient understanding of the legislative processes. These women typically don’t have any constituencies to discuss. They stick therefore to general issues and legislative debates. As far as a solution is concerned I think the number of reserved seats should not be decreased under any circumstances. Instead there should be rigorous work on areas such as training in legislation and reading bills. Women with relevant strengths should be nominated on the committees. When women are in a position of power they make natural pathways for other strong women to take up space in high positions.
TNS: Female parliamentarians and politicians are often brought into limelight for their clothes and dressing style instead of their performance and views. Who do you believe is at fault here and how can this problem be fixed?
HPB: Women in the parliament, like women in general, are not shown adequate respect. For example, if a well dressed women is attending a budget session there will be derogatory comments passed, like “she spent so much budget just on her clothes, what does she know?” Some women in the parliament are seen as style icons. This needs to change. Even if a pretty women comes into the assembly only her intellect and capability should be highlighted. Women should learn from the examples of Maryam Nawaz and Maryam Aurangzeb who rise above such comments and are serious political leaders of today. As far as the blame is concerned, I think the media bears most of it. Of course, the women too should focus on their work and not such coverage.
TNS: Do you believe gender roles and biases play a part in inter party politics?
HPB: As far as party politics is concerned I think women are being taken seriously. This is a tough job and those around us know that if we show up we are serious and focused. On top of that, women submit more resolutions and draft more papers than men in general. When given work, all women around me deal with it seriously and often outperform their male counterparts. As far as gender roles are concerned everyone knows that one needs to strike a balance in life. This applies to everyone. Naturally women serving in assemblies are incredibly good at multi-tasking and very capable.
TNS: Some propose that training sessions at induction and regular research support can go a long way in improving the performance of women parliamentarians. What are your thoughts on this?
HPB: I most definitely agree. There should be a separate training sessions on legislation drafting, loopholes and important social issues. The training department at an assembly can be helpful regardless of a member’s gender; most need help with even the basics. We do not need more of bodies like the Women’s Caucus which deal only with women’s issues. Training definitely goes a long way; it ensures that women have the relevant information, become good speakers and communicators and are not taken lightly. What happens is that if a resolution needs to be passed, they just count the women members present and tell them to simply raise their hands without any discussion or prior approval. Training will ensure that women are well informed and can fully participate in decision making.
TNS: What are some of the urgent changes that you think are necessary for the benefit of women parliamentarians in Pakistan?
HPB: There needs to be an increase in the number of important ministries given to women. These include public accounts, finance and education. Political parties should also have women spokespersons. This will ensure that women in power help bring more women to join them.
The writer is a member of staff.